SJ passes two ordinances banning encampments, RV parking, near schools

"They’re criminalizing the unhoused people. There’s no place for them to go," said long-time South Bay homeless advocate Gail Osmer.

She and others opposed to the measures gave council members an earful Tuesday afternoon. This, as Mayor Matt Mahan, (D) San Jose, defended the policy change geared to protect children.

"While we are working to build basic dignified shelters, safe parking sites and more affordable housing, they should not have to deal with those conditions right next to their school every day," he said.

The  "conditions" the mayor referred to are homeless encampments near public and private schools in San Jose. Last year, students at three schools contacted council members, and complained there are safety issues, having encampments so close.

"Including incidents of the unhoused making their way onto campus during the school day. And break-ins, captured on the school’s security cameras. These incidents have cost our schools tens of thousands of dollars," Kim Vo, principal at KIPP San Jose Collegiate High School, said Aug. 3, 2023, during a news conference with the mayor. Added high school senior Fernanda Soto, "I have to ensure I’m focusing on my surroundings all the times."

In response, the city staff has spent nearly a year crafting an ordinance barring encampments closer than 150 feet to a school. Three school areas will be test sites.

Many council members said the action will help ease the minds of school-age children, who are worried when forced to confront large encampments.

The council also took action to prevent large vehicles, such as RVs, from parking near schools.

"Little bit of the wild west, where people are going to park wherever they want because nobody’s going to do anything about it. Especially oversized vehicles where you can’t see around them. And I think perhaps we can prioritize roadway safety," said council Dist. 1 representative Rosemary Kamei.

This action also passed unanimously.

The mayor said the city needs to step up providing services for the unhoused, including completion of a Safe Parking site at Berryessa.

"By investing in lower barrier solutions, we reduced unsheltered homelessness ten percent year over year. We have another 784 interim units coming on-line," said Mahan.

But some South Bay unhoused advocates said until the broad array of services are in place, the most vulnerable in the community will continue to suffer.

"I think it’s just a tragedy. It’s horrible. Where are they supposed to go? Let’s get them into Berryessa first. Let’s get another safe parking place. Let’s get some more EIH’s, now. Not next year," said Osmer.

The two ordinances, one banning encampments, the other, parking near schools, will have a second reading before the council in two weeks. If passed again at that time, they would go into effect 30 days thereafter.

Jesse Gary is a reporter based in the station's South Bay bureau. Follow him on the X platform (formerly Twitter), @JesseKTVU and on Instagram, @jessegontv